Roanoke Island, N. C,
May 22, 1862
John C. Weston, Esq.:
Your letter, making inquiries in regard to your brother at the battle of Bull Run, was duly received through our friend, the Hon. Alvin Beard, and it will be a pleasure to me if I can afford any comfort or gratification to the family of him whom I valued so highly as a friend and associate. Captain Weston had not been well for many days, but when the order came to march he no longer complained of being sick, but was at his post, looking after his men and supplying their wants for the march and the fight. Soldiers are very much like children, needing some one constantly to look after them and attend to their personal wants, and a captain, if he is a good one, will supply the place of a father to them. Captain Weston was in this respect one of the best captains, and provided well for all the wants of his men as far as he was able. I saw him frequently on the march from Washington to Centreville, and to inquiries respecting his health he invariably returned a cheering answer, although he was so feeble as to be compelled to ride a part of the time in order to keep along with his company. We bivouacked each night, sleeping with no shelter but our blankets and perhaps a few boughs hastily thrown up by the soldiers and it must have been hard for him, suffering as he was at the time from diarrhoea.
One of the hardest marches I have ever seen, excepting, of course, the retreat on the same day, was that from Centreville to Bull Run field on the morning of the 21st of July, not so much on account of its length, for even our division, commanded by Hunter, did not probably march more than fifteen miles, as from its tediousness, caused by the inexperience of both officers and men in marching in a long column of troops, and also from the excessive heat and consequent thirst and fatigue. We started at 2 a.m., and went into the fight at 10:30 on the double-quick. During all this long march Captain Weston must have been on his feet, as none but mounted officers had any opportunity to ride, and when we debouched on the field all were nearly exhausted.
There was but one company (Co. I) between Captain Weston’s and mine, and I recollect seeing more of him than of any other captain in the line, though each of us had plenty to do to attend to our own companies. At one time, after we had countermarched from the right to the left of the Rhode Island battery, when we were receiving the hottest fire we saw that day, when the bullets were flying like hailstones and thinning our ranks at a terrible rate without our being able to return the fire on account of friends in front, and no enemy within sight of us, we were ordered to lie down to avoid the shot. Captain Weston probably did not hear the order, and I remember seeing him standing, erect and alone, in front of his men, waving his sword and urging his soldiers to ‘Stand up like men, and not lie down like cowards.’
It was here that Colonel Marston was wounded and nearly all our loss for the day sustained before the order came to lie down, and it was a wonder that the Captain, exposed as he was, escaped unhurt. Presently the fire slackened, and we all moved forward. At another time, when we had advanced nearly half a mile to the front and to the right, we were lying down again, unable to return the fire on account of uneven ground.
My company being armed with Sharp’s rifles, different from the rest, was on the left of the line and was a sort of independent corps, and seeing an advantageous position just in front of us at the top of the hill, where I could cover my men behind a fence and reach the enemy with our superior rifles, I moved my men forward at double-quick and seized the fence, pouring in a rapid and destructive fire.
A part of Co. I went with us, and Captain Weston, seeing the movement and supposing we had been sent forward, went to the field officers and begged of them to allow his company to go with us. But they had received no orders to advance, and as other regiments were retreating, they very properly refused and gave the order to retire, and reformed the line half a mile or more to the rear. Here seven captains of us met, with quite a respectable battalion, and exchanged expressions of chagrin and regret that we had not held the foe at that advanced position. Captain Weston rushed about to find some officer of sufficient courage and authority to lead us forward again, or at least to make a stand where we then were. But none were to be found. The day was lost. The retreat — the rout — had commenced.
Commanders who had that day lost the opportunity to make themselves heroes, with a few noble exceptions, were already far on the road to Washington. Our regiment, although on the extreme right of the line, and consequently brought in the rear of the retreating mass, came off the field in tolerably good order, but there were so many fugitives constantly mixing in our ranks, and the men were so dreadfully fatigued, it was im possible to keep them together, and we were soon irretrievably scattered. About two miles, however, from the field there was an attempt made to halt and make a stand. The Captain was with me there, and we made an effort to rally our men — he exhausting all his eloquence and using every endeavor to induce them to halt. But it was of no use. The stream of fugitives from all regiments poured past us like the waters of a reservoir broke loose, and we gave up in despair. We retreated together through the woods, keeping as many of our men with us as possible, — he calling out at intervals with stentorian voice, ‘Second New Hampshire,’ and I constantly answering in the same terms from a short distance away. After two or three hours, however, we became separated, and I saw very little more of him until we met near the close of that terrible march at the Long Bridge.
We marched into the city and into camp together with a part of our men, the only two captains who remained to the last with their men and returned to camp with their regiment.
This is all I remember of our noble and lamented brother more than you already know. I can bear testimony with all others who knew him well, that as a soldier he was brave, honorable, and patriotic in the highest degree, and as a citizen and a man it is impossible to speak of him in terms too exalted.
With great respect I have the honor to be,
S. G. Griffin
Contributed by David Morin, Exeter, NH
Notes on Ephraim Weston and Simon G. Griffin